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Saturday, September 18, 1998
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Plan to evacuate Kargil town
Tribune News Service

SRINAGAR, Sept 13 — The Jammu and Kashmir Government plans to shift the district headquarter town of Kargil in the Ladakh region to a "safer zone" out of the firing range of Pakistani troops.

According to official sources here an alternative road link is also under consideration to avoid the movement of traffic on the 4 km stretch on the Srinagar-Kargil highway enroute to Leh. Vehicles on this stretch near Kargil town frequently become target of Pakistani firing and shelling.

The firing affects the movement of vehicles to the frontier region of Ladakh particularly during the summer season when truckloads of essential commodities are transported for the winter season. The road link to the Ladakh region remains cut off for more than six months due to heavy snowfall at Pir Panchal ranges of the Himalayas.

A decision to construct an alternative road link of 12-km in place of the 4-km stretch has been taken by the state government in consultation with the Defence Ministry. The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, had earlier approached the Defence Ministry in this regard. Following a nod from the Centre, the site for the construction of the alternative road has been identified. The realignment of the link road is being taken up and is awaiting the release of funds to the state government.

Due to the frequent shelling and firing on the Srinagar-Leh highway near Kargil, the movement of traffic is regulated only during night. In the past two months a number of such incidents have taken place and no movement of traffic is allowed during day. The vehicles, with all lights switched off, are allowed to move on the highway only during night to avoid spotting by the Pakistani troops.

According to the sources the decision to shift Kargil town was taken to avoid more casualties due to firing from across the border which has become a regular feature now. The retaliatory firing by the Army, reportedly, does not cause much damage to the civilian population or the property on the other side of the border, for the villages in the area have been evacuated. The shifting of the town, is going to be an additional burden on the already cash strapped state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Nearly 20 civilians were killed and over 50 houses damaged in Pak shelling on Kargil town in September last year. The authorities had planned to construct underground bunkers for the civilians. About 500 such bunkers were planned, but the plan was shelved half-way for lack of funds. A few bunkers were made in the town area out of the district funds. But, these did not prove useful following escalation in firing and shelling from across the border.

Meanwhile, life in Kargil town has remained disrupted since Friday after over 50 shells hit the area causing damage to government and private buildings. A number of employees from outside have fled the area. Shops and business establishments continue to remain closed after the Friday firing. But there has been no report of fresh firing by the Pakistani troops.back

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